4. Factoids, Impressions, and Impressions

The “Special Breast Cancer Awareness Issue” floods the populace in October. It might be in a small town in upstate New York, a metropolitan city in Florida, or a magazine dedicated to the Jersey Shore. It doesn’t really matter. The template is the same. Shape the culture, fuel the industry, and do it in the name of “awareness.” Rachel C. of The Cancer Culture Chronicles exposes the content of one of these magazines. “Breast Cancer Awareness Jersey Shore Style!” was originally published on The Cancer Culture Chronicles on October 1, 2011. She shares an adapted version of the essay authored here in collaboration with Pink Ribbon Blues.

Breast Cancer Awareness Jersey Shore Style!

From a societal standpoint, and as someone living with the daily and never-ending challenges of a metastatic cancer diagnosis, I often wonder why I feel such an unnerving sense of isolation and increasing dread about the fact that there is really very little understanding about what a breast cancer diagnosis really means, despite the efforts of the pink awareness movement. When I received a special breast cancer awareness magazine the week before Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it suddenly all made sense. People don’t know about the realities of breast cancer because they are repeatedly fed light-hearted and trivializing stories about about surviving, winning the battle, having fun, and looking oh, so pretty, in pink. It’s all right here in my mailbox!

This is what  “In Jersey / Jersey Shore Magazine” thinks is important for the women of the Jersey Shore area to know about breast cancer.

First, the cover of the “Special Breast Cancer Awareness Issue:”

Jersey Shore Magazine (print)

Second, the “contents” of Volume 1, Issue 11:

On page 32 we learn about a woman named Pat BATTLE (nice use of double entendre), a news woman who shares her story about surviving breast cancer, a “battle” won! Another celebrity breast cancer story. Funny how they all seem to be good news stories; about how mammograms saved their lives, and how they’ve gone on to embrace the mantle of triumphant survivorship after so-called successful treatment. And that’s the end of the story, as is always the way. I guess editors don’t think anyone wants to read about the difficulties, side effects, failures, bad prognoses, or when people who had mammograms got recurrences or eventually died anyway. There is certainly not a word about metastatic breast cancer. Those stories, and there are many, too many, might not need the pink pashmina for that special issue photo shoot. Or hair. Or breasts. Or ovaries. Or other body parts or organs, or other semblances of a seemingly normal and happy life.

On page 42 we get what is essentially an advertorial for Dr. Beth Deutch’s marvellously innovative and oh-so-cosy breast imaging center called HerSpace. Poignantly, we’re informed that Dr. Deutch also recently went through her own breast cancer crisis, but details are scant at the behest of the good doctor as she wants to focus on her patients. Patient focus is a good thing. In this story, what it really means is a client-based consumer market. Dr. Deutch describes her “niche” practice, which operates on a fee-for-service basis. In other words, it doesn’t accept Medicare or private insurance plans. Medical care is just another commodity. I’d like to order some fries with my mastectomy, please! That “story” got 5 pages out of a 63-page “special” issue.

On page 52 we’re treated to a Tickled Pink fashion spread of glossy made-up survivors. They are dressed in t-shirts from their favorite breast cancer charities and bedazzled in all manner of pink ribbon accessories and jewelry. It’s all available for purchase at listed stockists and retailers. As for the copy describing these plucky survivors, and here’s my personal favorite…they are “showcased here in an array of pink items, they show a verve and vitality that is the essence of the spirit of all survivors….” Nothing says verve and vitality like a $139.95 Sparkle Strong Breast Cancer Survivor Necklace!

And last but not least, on page 37, “Amazing Beauty Tips for Chemo Girls,” about two local women who have co-authored a book (available for purchase from Amazon, etc.) chock full of beauty pearls of wisdom for all us “chemo girls.” Shame on me. I hadn’t really thought about pencilling my eyebrows in today, but I do hope they have a tip for dealing with the thrush that has taken up residence in my mouth this week as a result of steroids I had to take during radiation. How can I get that squeaky clean feeling when my mouth is ulcerated halfway down my throat and coated in white crap? Somehow the answer to this practical question doesn’t make the tiplist. I wonder if I’ll still be able to wear lipstick.

The point about this snarky post is important. This kind of “information” is what we women are being bombarded with on an almost daily basis with respect to breast cancer awareness. Examples like this magazine, and there are so, so many examples just like this, contain absolutely not one iota of useful, educational, scientific, newsworthy, actionable, impartable, or realistic information about breast cancer. Period. But there are plenty of happy survivor-genre stories, coupons for pink products, and lists of retailers. This magazine, in the name of awareness, goes out to every household in my county and surrounding areas! 

How have we let “breast cancer awareness” come to this?

Breast Cancer is Big Business. In the meantime, the largest breast cancer advocacy organization in the country is selling pinkwashed perfume and leading the march of happy pink consumption and “actions” that serve to perpetuate its version of survivorship, advocacy platforms, and the wealth of the organization and its sponsors. Komen’s “Less Talk. More Action” program and schedule of events is another parade of meaningless propaganda.

October 1

Susan G. Komen founder and CEO, Ambassdor Nancy G. Brinker, kicks off Breast Cancer Awareness Month with a special video message encouraging you to take action. View video.

October 2

The Dallas Cowboys will be honoring breast cancer survivors at Cowboys Stadium as Amb. Nancy G. Brinker does the coin toss in the game against Detroit. Check out the following new videos as Cowboys pledge to take action if the women in their lives get screened for Breast Cancer. Video Coming Soon!

October 4

Take a moment today to tell us what you would have missed if you (or someone you loved) didn’t get screened for breast cancer in time. Your story could help urge other women to get screened. Start sharing.

October 5

Feeling hungry? Learn more about “Mike’s Way to a Cure Day” at Jersey Mike’s

Take action by supporting our sponsors? It looks like October 4th, in particular, will be a long day of soul-searching for those of us in the metastatic breast cancer community:

“Take a moment today to tell us what you would have missed if you (or someone you loved) didn’t get screened for breast cancer in time. Your story could help urge other women to get screened. Start sharing.”

I can’t even qualify this “action” with a response, other than to say that the look of pain that grimaced across my Beloved’s face when I shared this pink nugget with him was truly palpable. From the estimated 155,000 people currently living with metastatic breast cancer, and for the 40,000 estimated to die in the U.S. this year alone, I have this message for the Komen organization:

“How dare Komen so FALSELY suggest that a screening mammogram is all it takes to avoid metastatic breast cancer? How dare Komen so CRUELLY suggest that “not getting screened for breast cancer in time” would be THE reason and the FAULT of the person with metastatic disease who misses out on all the experiences and joyous events of a long and healthy life that so many others take for granted? How dare you, Komen? How dare you?”

With a 31-day schedule like this, it’s going to be a long month!  No wonder we’re not getting anywhere in the so-called race for the “cure.”

Meanwhile, in the midst of the pink-washed fanfare, I’ve been dealing with the gift of steroid-induced myopathy and a nasty case of mouth thrush. So now in addition to occupational therapy for my hand, which lost feeling and mobility due to the insidious march of metastatic breast cancer, I must also start a course of intensive physical therapy to regain the strength in my lower body and leg muscles, which have withered away to practically nothing. I haven’t even started my next round of new chemotherapy yet. I’m saving that fun for next week. What will I wear? Perhaps all I need is a full face of makeup, and all of this can just go away with a poof of a pink pashmina, a spritz of some Promise Me perfume, and a sparkly pink ribbon trinket. Battle won. We’re all aware. We’re all survivors. Fist pump!

Rachel C. became a full-time blogger following a career spanning fifteen years in public accounting and tax consulting. In her main blog, The Cancer Culture Chronicles, Rachel writes about her personal experiences as a woman living with metastatic breast cancer, her observations of the surrounding breast cancer culture, as well as other important issues relevant to the breast cancer community. She also writes a magazine-style women’s interest blog at Can-Do Women. Hailing from Australia originally, Rachel holds an Australian Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, and Masters’ degrees in Business Administration and Science from an American university. She lives in coastal New Jersey with her husband and small dog. The Cancer Culture Chronicles received the 2011 J.K.  Rowling Howler MAAM Award for “smashing the myth of the pink popular culture of the breast cancer world.”

For more consciousness raising essays, check out “30 Days of Breast Cancer Awareness.”

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3 comments to 4. Factoids, Impressions, and Impressions

  • Wow – Great article.

  • Mary

    Hmmmmm, so all it takes is a screening mammogram? Wonder if it is still my fault if regular mammograms did NOT show up my cancer and I certainly was not a younger woman, for whom they are less reliable. I am an older woman, with dense tissue none the less. The false negative rate for mammogram is between 25 and 40% and I fall into that category. So guess what? For too many of us mammography doesn’t cut it, but mastectomy does! Pun intended. Can you tell I am NOT a happy “pink survivor”? Rachel, you tell it like it is and I thank you.

  • “The look of pain that grimaced across my Beloved’s face …” powerful story, Rachel, and a worthy dissection of the breast cancer special issues that are everywhere this month and Komen’s Less Talk, More Action campaign.

    When I pleaded urgently two years ago that the breast cancer campaigns move from Awareness to Action, I had no idea that the proper actions included eating out at the right places and buying expensive tchotkes. I’m so grateful for these campaigns telling me that’s all that is needed!

To speak her truth, she needed to give her words and identity away, to a trusted poet and friend @stevedavenport breastcancerconsortium.net/ov…

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* GAYLE IN THE MEDIA *

"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

*Sad face*: Being happy does not help you live longer" New Scientist

How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change? The Guardian

Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns BMJ

Breast Cancer to Rise 50 Percent by 2030? Hey, Not So Fast! Health News Review

Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause iafrica.com

How to Make the Biggest Impact With Your Breast Cancer Donations Money

The Very Pink, Very Controversial Business of Breast Cancer Awareness Racked

NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Chronicle of Philanthropy

The problem with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Women's Health Magazine

Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer The Nib

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard NPR, All Things Considered

Canadian Mammogram Study KCRW, NPR Affiliate

Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth CNN

Breast Cancer: Awareness, Activism & Pinkwashing NPR Charlotte

Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

The Pink Backlash Orlando Sentinel

Why Jolie's Test Costs So Much CNN

Preventative Mastectomies: Disease and Deception BlogTalkRadio

Angelina Jolie and the 'Breast Cancer Gene' KCRW

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer The New York Times Magazine.

The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon Campaign Sisters Talk Radio

WISH Interview Women's International Summit for Health

Making Cancer About The Patient, Not The Body Part CBS Pittsburgh

Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients USA Today

The perils of pink The Daily

Komen pink campaign creates breast-cancer blues for some Dallas Morning News

A yellow flag for the NFL's pink New York Daily

Gayle Sulik named #7 in SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer cancer causes so easily derailed Philly Inquirer

Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion? Salon.com

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

Amid Breast Cancer Month, Is there Pink Fatigue? NPR's All Things Considered

How is Breast Cancer Culture Undermining Women's Health? America’s Radio News Network

Pink Ribbon Culture and Breast Cancer The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Big Business of Breast Cancer
Marie Claire

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red The Sacramento Bee

Get Your Pink Off Ottawa Citizen

Komen Pink Ribbons Raise Green and Questions USA Today

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** MORE RADIO INTERVIEWS **